The Ocean Rose
Night Bloom Records
Having declared Britta Pejic’s Latitude Bera the early frontrunner for Maine Album of the Summer this June, I’m obliged to report that Wildflower has, here in the home stretch, just blown past Ms. Pejic for that imaginary honor.
The Portland quintet’s 2019 debut, Part One, arrived like a warm ocean breeze from Peaks Island that spring, its shimmering guitars, languorous tempos, and Adrian O’Barr’s high, reedy voice combining to create what sounded to me like honky-tonk music in heaven. The Ocean Rose is a fuller blossoming of the flowery sound they achieved on that record. Matthew Maiello, the group’s Garth Hudson “X-Factor,” whose understated keys and horns lift every song up a notch, is more prominent here, and that’s just what the band needs on this follow-up.
The first few songs on Rose sound like the best cuts on Part One, O’Barr spinning simple stories about wandering towns and coastlines as Alex Winthrop’s electric and slide guitars make everything glow. You can listen to this stuff all day — it’s soft rock — but eventually it’ll drive you mad.
Mercifully, in comes “The Ocean Grows,” and a hush falls over the record. “The orange groves are overgrown / And all the birds are singing / So I sang along,” O’Barr begins, accompanied by the low hum of a clarinet and some gentle strumming. This little song is so arrestingly beautiful that you might just drop whatever’s in your hands, so be forewarned.
“Golden,” the first single, could be Wildflower’s catchiest jam yet, its surging chorus buoyed by backing vocals from Kacey Johansing and Michael Nau. Side two gets a little wander-y and unfocused, though the lovely instrumental “Evening Falls in Paradise” breaks things up nicely, and closer “Wildfather” gives your heartstrings one last pull before turning off the bedside light for the night.